(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
BOSTON — Signing autographs and posing for pictures, Mary Cain smiles non-stop. She wears the same grin that was seen week-in and week-out in 2014 when she took the American track scene by storm and claimed a gold medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships. At the Boston Mayor’s Cup Cross Country meet on Sunday, hosted by the Boston Athletic Association and USATF New England, Cain savored the relaxed and fun atmosphere.
The Mary Cain here today is visibly upbeat, a somewhat changed 19-year-old. She’s a far cry from the young woman who walked off the track dejected after an eighth place finish at this year’s USA Track & Field Championships in June.
This Mary Cain is giddy and wears a bright orange ribbon in her hair. She’s re-energized and ready to build off her 16:46, third place 5K finish today.
“I’m not the down Mary Cain in interviews any more!” she exclaimed with glee and a chuckle, moments after a recorded interview with Race Results Weekly came to an end. “I’m super happy!”
Speaking one-on-one with RRW for close to ten minutes as rain began to fall, Cain described her new outlook on running. Since moving back to her family home in Bronxville, N.Y., earlier this year, she feels a new sense of energy.
With the move East, Cain has gone back to the basics, focusing on why she fell in love with running in the first place. She’s going back to the things that made her arguably the top prep runner in American history, and a feared athlete on the track globally.
Cain still wears the black-skulled Nike Oregon Project kit with pride, perhaps more pride than ever before. Some media members and fans had wondered if Cain and coach Alberto Salazar were growing apart after a tough 2015 track season, culminating with her move back to Bronxville.
On the contrary, Cain said she has confidence in Salazar and still talks to him daily, relying on him for workouts and advice. The only change—really—is being thousands of miles apart, she said.
While Cain released a blog entry earlier this month that touched upon the move, she had not previously gone into depth regarding the topic. Today, Cain opened up to Race Results Weekly, providing context on the transition.
“I think a lot of it has been going ‘back to basics’ as my mom says. A lot of it is quality workouts and quality running [now],” Cain began. “I think last year I really got caught in the ‘I’m running against 30-year-olds, I have to look like a 30-year-old on the track’ [mentality]. So I’d be doing crazy tempos, crazy mileage, crazy cross-training, and I would get into running and by the time I’m doing the actual sport that I do, I felt really awful, really crappy. You could see it in my results.”
After moving to Portland and attending the University of Portland, Cain ramped up her training. She’d routinely make 30 minute drives from the college campus to the Nike campus for track workouts.
While living in Portland had its many benefits—including the superior facilities, personal training under Salazar, and more—it did come with apparent drawbacks. From today’s conversation, Cain sounded like she was a bit stressed in Oregon, and put a lot of pressure on herself.
The move back to Bronxville was a step back, a forward-thinking move to get back to what worked best; what helped her set personal bests of 1:59.51 for 800 meters and 4:04.62 for 1500 meters on the track.
“Part of the reason I moved home is because this [meaning 2016] isn’t really the year to mess up again. In a way I knew this was a system that works, and we’re all really comfortable and confident with it, and I’m just happy to be back,” she said. “I think one of the biggest things for me is just having fun with again, seeing all these kids [looking at the children around her]. When I was out in Portland there was a lot of really great things about it. But being home, I’m a New Yorker and I think I’ve really enjoyed being back out here.”
If a title was necessary, Cain’s move could be called “Back To The Future.” She’s returning to Bronxville and her past while hoping for future success. She’s reverting to the training system that she was most comfortable with.
“This year, it’s just been about the running,” she said. “I’ll do my core, I’ll do my strength training, I’ll do my occasional cross-training if I need it. But it’s really about going through the motions of running and I think that’s made it more fun again for me. I came into this sport because I love to run. And I’m back home with my parents who help me out.”
Cain rattled off names who have been supportive and key to her career: Salazar; her parents Charles and Mary; her sisters Aine, Catherine, and Mairead; and Olympian John Henwood, who oversees her training in Bronxville and was on hand today.
“In a lot of ways its just what I did junior and senior year of high school. Alberto is 3,000 miles away but we still have got the phone and technology like we did two years ago. We’re on the phone all the time. I think it’s kind of nice to almost bring it back to what kind of got me into the sport in the first place,” she said. “Alberto and I developed a relationship kind of how we are working together right now, so it feels like how it used to be. It hasn’t really changed at all.”
“In a way I think our relationship is probably even better now because I’m not the crazy college kid now!” Cain continued. She noted specifically frantic calls from Portland traffic jams, and other stresses trying to juggle academic and athletic excellence while being currently enrolled at Fordham University.
Sunday’s Boston Mayor’s Cup Cross Country meet was another step forward to what Cain hopes is a successful 2016, culminating with a trip to Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Games. She does not know when her next race will be, but hinted at a return to New York’s Van Cortlandt Park for another cross country event. She will run an indoor track season, and is eager to lace up the spikes again soon.
“For October 25, I know I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve never been in this kind of shape this early, so I’m pretty excited about that!” she said.
With the success that Cain has achieved prior to her 20th birthday comes a lot of pressure and expectations, both internal and external. During the better part of 2015, Cain was troubled by the lack of progress and success she had become accustomed to in 2014.
Now, going into 2016, she’s refocused. She’s in a more comfortable setting, and is ready for more.
“In a lot of ways right now is just getting back into racing because last year really wasn’t that good,” she said, speaking directly into a video camera and sounding like a mature, focused adult. “It’s about being able to get to the line, go through the pre-race jitters, get a good effort in. But really get ready for indoor [track]. I’m excited for this indoors. I feel like I’m back on track—no pun intended.”